Roy Morrison, blogger at Rise Africa Rise, explains how to develop a sustainable and successful digital strategy in the rising digital economy in 6 steps.
As Social Entrepreneurs and Innovators our primary focus is often on creating a positive impact that benefits the wider society in some way or another. However, the reality is that we need to create sustainable enterprises in order to create the change we seek. This means that we need to generate revenue.
The world we live in is transitioning towards a digital economy at tremendous pace. The digital economy is one based on digital computing technologies and includes mobile web services and social media among many other digital technologies.
Tech companies such as Facebook have stated their aim to expand internet access to every corner of the globe including remote villages. So, one can imagine that the pace is only going to accelerate in the foreseeable future. Peter Diamandis from Singularity University predicts that three to five billion people will come online in the coming years.
According to the European Commission the digital economy is the single most important driver of innovation, competitiveness and growth.
What does all of this mean for Social Entrepreneurs and Innovators?
While this transition presents many opportunities for Social Innovators and Entrepreneurs, it is also clear that as Social Innovators and Entrepreneurs we need to rethink the way we market our businesses. Outdated marketing strategies that worked in the 20th century will certainly not work in the 21st century.
This means that if you want to innovate and create impact you will need to understand how to market your business in the digital economy with a compelling digital marketing strategy.
With the exponential increase of marketing channels over the last decade including Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, Whatsapp and many more it is not always easy to determine what the best digital marketing strategy might be for Social Innovators and Entrepreneurs.
That is why this article aims to offer a framework for Social Innovators and Entrepreneurs to think about how best to determine our digital marketing strategy.
Understanding the needs and the behaviour of our target audience is key. Everything else should flow from this.
Understanding the target audience means knowing where they hang out online. Do they hang out on Twitter? Facebook? Instagram? Snapchat?
If your audience mainly hangs out on Facebook then it would not make much sense to focus too much on Snapchat. Clearly, marketing efforts would be wasted. Pick the marketing channel where your target audience can be reached.
Another important aspect to consider is whether your target audience would search for a product or solution on Google (e.g. best health app for children) or whether a push marketing campaign is needed to increase the awareness of the product. Push marketing can often also involve directly interrupting potential clients in whatever they are doing (e.g. a sponsored ad on Facebook newsfeed). While this is often very effective, it can also be perceived to be very intrusive.
One of the most important factors in considering whether to adopt a push or a pull marketing strategy really depends on the behaviour of the target audience. Once their behaviour is known (whether they would actively search for a product or solution or whether they need to be made aware of it) you can decide the best way forward.
Who owns the target audience?
If you think you own the fans and followers you built up on one of the social media channels like Facebook or Twitter you might soon be in for a rude awakening. The rules of the game are set by Facebook, Twitter or Instagram and co. If they decide to ban you just because they can, there is not much you can do about it.
That is why you need to be careful about how you approach building your online audience. Facebook and other social media companies took a decision a few years back to reduce the impact of organic reach to about 2% of your fans on their platforms in order to encourage people and businesses to pay for increasing their reach through advertising. With a simple rule change like this, they can change the game for you and severely restrict access to your audience reach unless you invest money.
When somebody else sets the rules you will always be at risk so think carefully about how you approach building an audience for your social enterprise.
Your budget is one of the main factors in determining what digital marketing strategy you can pursue. If you have unlimited budget available then you can do almost everything and be present on every channel that you like.
Sadly, for most of us this is not the case. This means we need to make well thought through decisions. And one of the most important factors in making that decision is our available budget.
Advertising on all of the marketing channels costs money. Some channels cost more than others. For example, if you decide to incorporate a pay-per-click strategy (can be on Google or a social media channel) then you will need to have the necessary financial resource to do so. Also, the more competition in your market the higher those costs are going to be, because they will be competing with you for those much-coveted clicks.
Even so called “free” channels like inbound marketing have a cost attached to them as people need to be paid for the time invested in inbound marketing or the content that is produced in order for inbound marketing to have any effect.
Therefore, when you are considering which marketing channel to adopt for your digital marketing strategy think about what it will cost and what the impact will be on your business.
Here is the crux. So many businesses try to be present on too many digital marketing channels all at the same time. You see them on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, LinkedIn and running after the latest trendy channel.
But how many Social Innovation businesses really dominate their channels?
Their approach is too scattered.
There are probably a few reasons for this:
1. Not really understanding their audience and what channel is the best to engage their audience.
2. As a result, not much thought has been put into creating a sizzling digital marketing strategy.
3. Not understanding that if you truly want to dominate one channel it takes skill, dedication and commitment, because each individual channel is a universe unto itself.
4. Too many believe that if you have a marketing person on your team then you can do everything.
In order to really take your business forward in a digital economy, you must be aware of your capacities and the skillset that you have within when determining your digital marketing strategy. And if you do not have the necessary capacity then it is essential to know which one is worth building.
In order to maximize the impact of any digital marketing channel it requires skills. So, while most people are able to send an email, not everyone can execute a successful email marketing campaign to grow a business sustainably. In order for your business to grow this is what you need.
This does not mean you should only be present on one channel. But make sure you know which digital marketing channel is the foundation of your strategy and really dominate that one before complementing that one with others.
This leaves you with two options. Either you recruit someone to do digital marketing on a particular channel for you or you will have to learn it by yourself how to do it. There are plenty of resources on YouTube and other places on the internet where you can educate yourself.
Time is one of the most valuable resources we have at our disposal. That is why our aim should be to optimize the way we use it as much as we can. In an ideal world, this means we would adopt the digital marketing strategy that would give us the quickest return.
This is especially true if you are a new social enterprise or offer a new product/service. Then you want to let your audience know about it as quickly as possible. Unless you have significant resources you may not have the luxury of taking a few years to build up a strong brand that allows you to drive sustainable revenue.
This is why, it is useful to think which channel enables you to build an audience and find customers the quickest? For example, if you only focus on blogging it can take a very long time until you build a sustainable customer base. In contrast, if you go for pay-for-click with google adwords you can acquire customers fairly quickly. Just remember, it also tends to become expensive fairly quickly.
One of the great benefits of digital marketing compared to traditional off-line marketing is the ability to track user actions. Today it is possible to track nearly every user action online. For example, in email marketing you can analyse not only how many people have opened your emails but also how many have clicked on a link within the email and purchased something.
In contrast, if you are handing out pamphlets in a busy market there is no way for you to find out how many people actually read your pamphlets or took any action as a result of it. You can only guess.
While any digital marketing channel offers the ability to track users behaviour not all of them have the same capabilities. That is why you should determine what behaviour you would like to track and then evaluate whether the channel of your choice offers those tracking capabilities.
For example, a great benefit of email marketing is that you can install a code on your website that tracks user behaviour. This means it records if a user visits a particular sales or product page. As a result, you can then send your email subscribers a reminder via email to complete the purchase if they have not done so yet. In contrast, Twitter, for example, does not offer you these tracking abilities.
One of the keys to scaling your business is to engage in frequent strategic communication with your audience to inspire loyalty and grow your business through regular transactions.
It can cost anywhere between 5-20x more to acquire a new customer vs keeping an existing one. One of the first rules of business is to build a loyal customer base.
That is why it is so important that you think about what you do with a potentially new customer, strategic partner or beneficiary after they have engaged with your business for the first time? After all, you made a great effort to get their attention.
That is why when deciding on your digital marketing strategy you should think carefully about which channel offers the easiest way for a new customer or audience member to return to your business.
If you do not collect their phone number or email address what is your plan to re-engage them? Are you planning to inform them about new products or services through a Facebook update? A Tweet? Anything else?
Making it as easy as possible for new audience members and customers to return to engage with your business is really, really important. Give it some serious thought on how you plan to achieve that and which marketing channel helps you to achieve your objectives.
These pointers will give you a good starting point when determining your digital marketing strategy for your Social Enterprise. For every business, the strategy will look different, because every business has different objectives, target audiences, capacities and available budgets. There are, however, some compelling arguments as to why Social Innovators and Entrepreneurs should make email marketing the crown jewel of any digital marketing strategy. Email tends to perform well regarding budget, tracking, return path and access to audience. If you are interested to learn more about this, stay tuned for future blog posts.